Oh how fun it is to daydream about getting the things we want: larger breasts, fancier car, bigger home or a new boyfriend. We concoct many short movie clips in our mind, involving our newly attained endowment. We think life will be FAB when this comes to pass. However, the woman with large breasts laughs and begins to spout off the laundry list of annoyances that large breasts bring with them: big bulky bras, shoulder pain, limited bathing suit selection, or enjoying a simple run.
“Brace yourself”, Dolly Parton used to say, “I don’t run anymore, I got tired of coming home with black eyes!”
Maybe the fancy car would break our bank each month or the larger house would triple our housework. And the “new” boyfriend may just be Mr. Wrong, all together. Sometimes, we find the obligations that accompanies our fascinations is a bit more than what we were hoping for.
What about those things that we really need, the things we pray for continually, like patience, a bigger heart or greater compassion for others? Do we fully consider the greater responsibility that comes along with them?
Praying for a larger heart for others is not a new thing for me. Upon beginning teaching at a beauty institute, I was surrounded with artistic and passionate young women. At first I felt intimidated, being older and not nearly as cute and stylish as they were, but I took that intimidation and gave it to God asking him to grow a heart for these girls. He did. I fell in love with these amazing, talented future professionals, and at times it would take all of me to compose myself in a professional manner when my job required me to face an angry guest whose harsh words left my student discouraged and in tears. These were my girls.
It’s that stinkin’ mama bear syndrome, when you see some kid tormenting your child in the playground and within seconds you transform into GI Jane. Been there? Yah, me too.
When I made the decision to leave my career and lead my family, my heart was not aligned with my beliefs. I believed I needed to be at home, but my heart was missing my industry . I prayed for a greater love for my family and soon my hearts desire to be a great mother danced in harmony with my delight in devotion to them.
In both cases I have found the growing of my heart for others to not only bless me, but also bless those I’m loving on.
Working within women’s ministry at my church was no exception. I was serving in bible study leadership; a planner and speaker for the annual women’s retreat; and also served as women’s ministry assistant. The more interaction I had with women the more I asked God to grow my heart for them. I told him that I wanted to love them like sisters; allowing the joy in serving them, to flow from a heart full of delight, not duty. Well, He did just that. Wild, untamed, unreserved love.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with God several years ago, I mentioned I was ready to fall in love, and that I could “handle” it, especially if it was a love that came from him. I look back and laugh as I imagine him chuckling to himself, thinking, “Oh, you think you can “handle” a love from me?! Haha, ok, sweet thing, here you go!” And the intense love affair that ensued shortly after, was the wildest, most extraordinary love I had ever experienced. I lost 10 lbs; my co-workers thought I was smoking doobies all day because I flitted about the salon in a daze; My face hurt for months, from smiling so big; and even today, looking at my husband brings my stomach to the Butterfly Pavilion. Yes, our love is maximum velocity, even to this day.
So I prayed for a greater love for the women in my church. Prayer answered.
After speaking at the women’s ministry retreat, I was ablaze for the purposes God was inviting me into. I heard Him speak over my life, and of the things he was calling me to; soaking in his love, his wild, untamed love for me. He continued speaking to me about ways to inspire and ignite the faith of the women within my church. I was coming alive, eager to be a part of it all.
A conflict began to arise within my heart. Over the past year in women’s ministry, my ears had been witness to women in leadership speak dishonorably of women within the church. “That one’s a secret smoker”; “this one is needy”; “that one is the enemy”. These words had become toxic sludge inside my heart, filling me with judgement. I shamefully acknowledged my agreement to the allegations, by not speaking up in their defense. My disgrace continued to confront me as I began to recognize that God was consistently placing these women in my path.
Still, I silently endured my adopted thoughts: “this one has a religious spirit”; “that one is a ditz”; but the final word fell and broke my silence, when it was the senior pastors wife who was spoken of. You see, her ministry “was a stump in the church, not producing any fruit and a real pain to go around when mowing the lawn.” I did not know my pastor’s wife very well, but what I did know was that she was quiet, sweet and extremely loving.
The heat of intolerance caused months of this toxicity to bubble up to the surface and I began to bring to light these words that had filled me.
There were several attempts to articulate this conflict within my heart, to trusted women in ministry. But, I left these conversations feeling ashamed, judgemental and discouraged. Was this what being rebuked or chastised felt like? Was being called a “Lone Ranger” part of the process needed for my spiritual maturity?
After asking God what the heck was going on inside my heart, because clearly I was confused as to whether I was being obedient to his prompting or simply indulging in my own profitable plan. He led me to James 3:17 –
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
So I decided to give wisdom a second opinion. I called a dear friend and pastor and asked her how to approach this situation. Her words were a balm, covered in grace and truth. She quoted scripture, speaking of David and Saul and how they handled similar affairs. Listening to my words, she heard my heart; encouragement and instruction followed. Surely I had just met wisdom, and even though I may not know her all too well, she was very easy to identify, for she was full of love.
I attended to her instructions, reading about them in Matthew 18 and pursuing communication and unity in any way I could. The response: unanswered emails, ignored calls, silent ostracism and eventually a “closed-door to women’s ministry”. After a few weeks in retreat from attending church, Mike and I asked God to be greater than this mess and give us the courage to attend Easter service. Fearfully, but faithfully, we went. After sitting down in the second row, we were greeted with an icy cold stare from a woman in ministry. We were clearly not welcome here.
How could this be happening? How could God give me a heart for these women, and then close the door to it all? Who is this God anyways, and what kind of cheap trick is this that even his own ambassadors would express a cold heart in all this? My husband and I wrestled with God for some time, questioning our faith and even the institution of church as a whole. We were the perfect candidates for bitterness to weasel its way in and we were wounded enough to open the door, but we decided we would not give in to hopelessness. If other believers wanted to claim an “impasse”, or choose to remain in a broken state, we would not.
“If these men represent the law, I’d rather be an outlaw” – John Reid, The Lone Ranger
A year has passed since this all went down and I will not pretend it has been just fine – it hasn’t, it is a painful and distressing ordeal, to be rejected. But the coolest thing about it all, is this: what the enemy meant for death, division and continued despair actually drew us closer to the Lord; closer to his comfort, closer to HIS truth. We were able to hear HIS voice over an expressed philosophy of hopelessness and the wisdom to discern the difference.
What I can say for sure, is that God is restoring our heart for the Church. We are learning to love it for its original intention, which is love. My Father has blessed me with greater vision, clearer direction and an unmistakable calling. I am coming alive, again. In this fall season, where all things are coming to an end, new life is birthing all around me.
My stories of faith will always end as this: The enemy’s greatest failure.
Did you catch that? This was not some ministry leaders attempt to discourage me, it was the enemy’s. It’s always him. We can choose to agree with him and be his accomplice, but it’s always him that has the mission of our demise.
What I also discovered, is that praying for more of anything may come with growing pains. And while they may sting for a bit, the greater capacity is well worth it.